I was brought up in Walsall in the West Midlands and I worked my way through our local school from Infants, Juniors and, after failing my eleven plus, to Seniors. This was a real culture shock. A lot of my friends had gone to other schools and I was alone in this strange place with strict male teachers, homework, the strap and slipper for children who broke the lots of unwritten rules in the classrooms.
Girls sat one side of the room and boys the other, with the brightest at the front and less bright children at the rear. There was little interaction between boys and girls, with girls having their own playground and school entrance.
Punishments were frequent, with boys being hauled to the front of the room for the slipper or, for more serious punishments, sent to the headmaster for the strap. Girls, however, were treated differently. They were given lines to write out and, very occasionally, they were sent with a note to the senior mistress, Mrs H, only to return after twenty minutes with a red face. They then sat quietly for the rest of the day.
We boys were never able to find out what had happened to them. Boys questioned sisters, but all that came back was that girls just got lines.
This carried on throughout the Senior school, and we lost interest. That was until my last week at school. I had no interest and just wanted to leave. The teachers were looking forward to the impending holidays. I was to start a job on the railway the next week and was totally bored stiff with that last week.
Imagine my delight when I was given the task of delivering some sealed envelopes to each teacher on site. Our school was spread out over a large area and the job involved a lot of walking, taking shortcuts around the back of buildings when possible. I was a little unsure of the layout of the Girls side of the school.
I made my way to the rear of a building into a small grassed area with some tall bushes in it. As it was a warm day, some windows were open and I heard the sound of a female teacher telling someone off for smoking. As I got closer and hid behind a bush, I was able to see into the room. The senior teacher, Mrs H, was lecturing a fourth year girl who was dressed in the school uniform.
This consisted of a long jacket and a long tight skirt down to her knees.
She concluded by saying: “You know what the punishment is for smoking, don’t you?”
I was thinking the strap was going to be used, but no, a large black slipper was produced. The girl looked shocked. She was told to remove her school jacket and bend over in the middle of the room. This she did and her skirt was stretched tightly over her bottom. Mrs H moved to the side of the girl and, after taking aim, brought the slipper down with a loud thwack. This was repeated four times with gasps and yelps from the recipient. She was then told to stand up and, as she turned round, there it was, the red face.
The mystery had been solved at last.